I have such mixed feelings about the holiday season that, I’ll admit, when one particular Christmas song comes on the radio, I change the words a little and sing, “It’s the most ambivalent time of the year!” I love Christmas, don’t get me wrong. I’m usually the first in my neighborhood to put up Christmas lights, and I look forward all year to my annual holiday party. But the past few years especially, I’ve been feeling kind of left out of Christmas. I hear all the songs on the radio, and watch all the movies, and see all the commercials, and walk past the greeting card aisle, and I get the impression that Christmas isn’t for people like me. It’s for people surrounded by big families, not for those of us who live alone with a dog and have family living hundreds of miles away. It’s for people whose gloriously romantic (and ridiculously wealthy) significant others buy them diamond jewelry and new cars with huge red bows on them, not for those of us without a significant other and living paycheck to paycheck. Most of all, it’s for people who are happy, and there are plenty of days that’s just not me.
I’m not sure I can get behind this treacly gift-fest we call Christmas, because I’m not sure I’ll ever be one of those people on the commercials. And to be honest, I’m not entirely sure those people exist. (If they do, I don’t want to know them. It would be really hard to like them.) But Advent? I can definitely get on board with Advent. Advent is honest about the darkness, and doesn’t try to overpower it with a thousand electric twinkle lights, but pushes against it just one candle at a time. And today was my favorite candle, the pink candle. As I told the extra-large crowd at church this morning, the third candle on the Advent wreath is pink not because we ran out of purple candles, but because pink represents a mixture of purple and white. The purple candles are the liturgical color of repentance and also royalty, signifying that this is the season we prepare our hearts for the coming King of Kings. And in the center of the Advent wreath is the white Christ candle. So today we lit the pink candle and remembered that even in the midst of repentance and darkness, the light of Christ can’t help but be present. And that is cause for joy.
The past few weeks have been tough ones at work. I have seen too much death and pain lately, and sadness seems magnified at this time of year. I feel compassion fatigue closing in on me. If I can just scrape by until my vacation next week . . . Yet even in the worst of those cases, I have seen light. Reflecting on a very sudden death, one family told me that this is exactly how the patient would have wanted it, to spend a happy few days with his family and then pass without suffering. I saw another patient and her mother reconcile, truly forgiving one another after a long time of bitter arguing. I watched patients accept love and let go of fear, and their peaceful deaths were beautiful beyond words. So, exhausted though I was (and still am), it was not difficult to celebrate joy Sunday this morning, as I sang songs of Christ’s birth as part of our church choir. We read Mary’s song from scripture, and our voices soared on the words set to music: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!”